Are cover letters still a thing?

Today, cover letters seem like an unnecessary step for candidates that employer do not even read – but many hiring managers still see cover letters as an important part of the hiring process

Are cover letters still a thing?

Cover letters are not new to the world of job hunting – but what once seemed like an important part of a candidate’s application now feels like an unnecessary document no one even skims over. This raises the question, do employers still read cover letters, and if so, what makes a good cover letter?

Cover letters

A cover letter is a document commonly attached to a candidate’s resume as part of a job application. It is a letter that outlines the job seeker’s interest, credentials, and qualifications for the available job role. It is usually a one-page letter addressed to the hiring manager that could significantly boost a candidate’s application or break it if poorly written. Cover letters are not mandated by law, but companies do ask employees to provide a cover letter.

Cover letters allow recruiters and hiring managers to develop a better understanding of the candidate and whether they would be a good fit for the role. Employers often prefer resumes accompanied by a cover letter, whether they were asked to provide one or not. It usually is where employers form a first impression on the candidate and decide whether to advance the candidate in the job interview process.

The importance of cover letters

Depending on the job position candidates are applying for, some employers value cover letters more than resumes.

Below are a few reasons why a cover letter is important:

  1. Tells the candidate’s story and suitability for the role

A cover letter allows job seekers the chance to share who they are as a person and as a professional that is hard to showcase in a resume. Job seekers use the letter as a chance to impress employers by further explaining and highlighting their interests, achievements, previous roles, skills, and why they want to be a part of the company. This helps the employer build an image of the candidate and whether they have the attitude and the skills needed to succeed in the job role.

  1. Builds relationship with the employer

The main goal of a cover letter is for the candidate to make a good impression on the employer. It is not enough for a candidate to have the technical skills to perform the job, but the candidate must be able to convince the employer that they are someone who colleagues can get along with in the workplace. As the letter builds an image of the candidate in the employer’s mind, the employer can then decide whether the candidate fits the company culture and not just the job role itself.

  1. Exhibits passion and enthusiasm

A well-written cover letter helps employers see how much candidates want the job. A cover letter can show how the candidate has taken the time to research the company and understand what the job role requires from them. It is also a great way to explain the value candidates can offer to the company.

Read more: COVID-19: Top priorities for HR leaders revealed

Are cover letters necessary?

Today, cover letters seem like an unnecessary step for candidates that employers do not even read.

But many hiring managers still see cover letters as an important part of the hiring process. According to a CareerBuilder survey, 40% of hiring managers claimed they are more likely to pay attention to a job application that includes a cover letter. Not only does it showcase an applicant’s abilities and skills, but it also helps speed up the recruitment process for employers. It is a quick yet in-depth way for employers to know the candidates and decide if they will move forward with their applications.

In addition, a survey by recruitment solutions firm Yello found that 73% of companies use talent acquisition software such as Applicant Tracking System (ATS), Job boards software, and Recruitment CRM software. But even so, some hiring managers still prefer to receive a cover letter over other online application processes like Easy Apply because they believe it influences the quality of applicants. For example, University of Texas’ senior lecturer of management Kristie Loescher told BBC recruiters may get a lot of applications from people who are “just out there fishing.” Hence, a cover letter proves candidates care about that specific role.

What employers should look for in a cover letter

There are many cover letter samples and cover letter builder websites that candidates can freely use to help them structure a good cover letter. But employers need to watch out for excellent cover letters that tick off the items below:

  1. Provides a solution

Cover letters usually start off with an opening line stating how the candidate is interested with a specific job role. While there is nothing wrong with that, an excellent cover letter would start off with a solution-oriented statement. For example, it could start with how the candidate can be a great marketing manager with varied experience in multiple industries and can create a detailed digital marketing plan in less than a month.

Candidates offering solutions for certain situations that the company could be facing can really make a good impression.

  1. Avoids jargon

Many candidates assume using business jargon makes their cover letters sound more professional – but it ends up sounding very generic, complicated, and fake. Employers would rather see simple English words that gets the message across easily. Using less complicated jargon helps the candidate sound more like themselves and allows the employer to create a better connection.

  1. Includes testimonials

Candidates who include quotes or words from a reference letter they receive from former co-workers can help make a cover letter stand out. It is important for employers to check the validity of the reference, so the reference’s contact information such as an email address or a phone number should be included. Testimonials help employers understand how the candidate interacts and works with other people – something that is hard to identify through a resume.

Read more: The resume ‘red flags’ that you need to watch out for

  1. Does research

A smart employer can spot generic cover letters that are sent to multiple companies – which can negatively affect the application of the candidate. Because of this, cover letters that mention the company and explain how the candidate can be a value to company goals are attractive to employers. Candidates who customize their letter to a specific company show employers how they are willing to sacrifice time and effort for the job.

  1. Ends with a call to action

Good cover letters end with a reason for employers to contact the candidates. For example, letters that end politely saying the candidate is willing to explain more about their experiences through an interview or meeting shows their enthusiasm to join the company.

Employers should be mindful of letters that end with forceful remarks such as “I’ll call to schedule an interview.” This can put employers in an uncomfortable position and makes the candidate look impatient and rude.

Smart HR leaders understand that while cover letters are a great way to get to know a candidate, they can only do so much and should not solely rely on them when it comes to choosing the right job applicant. Reviewing resumes and references, scheduling interviews, and conducting tests ensure employers are hiring the right applicant.

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